Friday, October 12, 2012

Don’t let the media filter your politics

By Kelsey Mejlaender, Copy Editor

Insults, promises and exaggeration — it must be debating time in this year’s presidential race. Every four years, Americans sit down to watch two people explain why one is better than the other. But whether voters are really influenced by the debate, or if we should even watch it, is less clear.

The first debate aired last Wednesday, Oct. 3, and the general consensus is that former Gov. Mitt Romney beat President Barack Obama. However, I didn’t hear anything that changed my opinion about either candidate, much less my vote.

Typically, almost everything candidates say in debates is something we already know. We’ve all seen the attack ads and heard snippets of the standard vitriolic phrases. Debates just allow candidates to explain the same things with longer sentences. 

According to social networking, the most popular nugget of information was about the classic Public Broadcasting Station’s (PBS) show “Sesame Street” and its star, Big Bird.

While discussing expenditures he would cut to reduce the deficit, Romney said he would cut the subsidy to PBS, presumably endangering “Sesame Street,” even though he said he liked Big Bird. It was the offhand comment that launched a thousand memes, not including the Twitter posts.

Those are the kinds of things people remember about debates.

Everyone pays attention to the things that are different, amusing or shocking. Twenty years from now, I won’t remember what Romney’s plan was for the economy, but I’ll remember what he said about Big Bird.

So if the “boring” information is just a longer version of what we already know, while any interesting bits get tossed around Twitter, comedy late night shows and multiple other news sources, is there any point in watching the actual debate?

I would say there is, but I also wouldn’t make it my top priority. Debates are right in the middle of midterms and so missing one is probably inevitable. As there are multiple sources available online that give the highlights of debates, you can skip the podium posing and still feel politically active.

Just don’t get too comfortable getting your political news from Tumbler and quick Google searches. There’s a risk of becoming too dependent on what other people think you should know versus what may actually be happening.

Even if you are getting your news from reputable sources like CNN, an important fact or detail that may have swayed your opinion might slip through the news world’s net.

If you don’t watch the original source for yourself, you will never know. Since the debate is available online, there are few excuses for not seeing the political tap dance yourself.

In 1960, the first presidential debate to be televised was between John F. Kennedy, who agreed to wear make-up for the cameras, and Richard Nixon, who refused make-up. Those who watched it, instead of listening on the radio, were certain the healthy-looking, energetic Kennedy won versus the sweaty, tired-looking Nixon. This was a debate that had big impact. Now, even with both candidates carefully primped and styled, looks and body language dominate public perception. While Obama was often looking down and taking notes, Romney was practically perky, smiling and speaking directly to the president. And if all you do is skim through memes for your political news, you won’t be any better informed than the voters of 1960.

The second debate is set for next Tuesday, Oct. 16.